Five years ago, Wharton grad Gregg Spiridellis and his brother Evan founded a tiny little entertainment company called JibJab. Now, four months after the wild success of their animated short, "This Land," they roam the L.A. beaches by day and chill with Jay Leno by night.
Are you on anyone 's side?
Evan: No. Not at all. This is strictly for laughs.
Gregg: At JibJab, the mission is to make people laugh ... So for us the ... election is just a great opportunity to create animated content based on a subject that 's on everyone 's minds at the same time.
How did this all get started?
G: I graduated from Wharton with my MBA in 1999 ... In '98 Evan came and visited me at Penn, and we saw ... John K., the guy who made Ren and Stimpy, we saw streaming cartoons over a 56K modem. It was full motion and full audio and it just opened our eyes to the possibility that a small creative studio could own its own distribution channel just by being on the Internet. So when I graduated in 1999 we started up shop in Brooklyn, and based on the premise that this small company could create valuable intellectual property ... and distribute it themselves, without a big megamedia conglomerate between us and our audience. So that was the business, that was the thing that excited us from a business point of view. And since then it 's just been great. You know, with "This Land," it's played out the way we always hoped it would, but we never expected it to get so big so fast.
How was creating your latest short, "Good to Be in D.C.," different from "This Land"?
E: Due to the success of "This Land," we were invited on The [Tonight Show] as guests. And they played "This Land," and Gregg and I got to sit on the couch. And at the end of our interview Jay asked us if we would be interested in producing another one for the show. Of course we said yes ... The one thing we know is that we didn't want to follow up "This Land" with a stinker. So when that opportunity presented itself, of course we said "yes," and that's when we kind of panicked and said, "Uh oh, we've got to turn this thing around fast." And that lead to "Good to Be in D.C." ... They aired the short, Jay gave us a great plug, he went on and on about JibJab.com ... The next day we heard from them that it went over real well.
Do you have a lot of other people in this project, or is it mostly you guys?
E: Gregg does the business, obviously, and he also does the writing. If you're looking for a black-and-white definition as to what our roles are, I would say he writes and I animate. But there 's definitely a gray area where we cross over ... My wife wrote the music for the last two shorts. Our friend, Jim Meskimen, did all the voices for both shorts. And we have friends who we call in as contractors when bigger jobs come in. But day to day, it's Gregg and myself.
Have you collaborated before this?
E: Not really ... I was doing independent animation before I started this with Gregg ... He's the funniest guy I know, first of all. He's always had the ability to make me laugh to the point of tears. So it felt like a natural fit when we started the business together.
G: We really know each other, obviously, better than you could expect from two business partners who haven't known each other their whole lives ... And we also share the same sensibility, having grown up in the same environment, laughed at the same things as kids, I'm sure that helps us create something that's cohesive. We don't really have any sort of squabbles about that sort of thing.
Would you say this campaign, of the ones you've seen, is particularly vicious?
E: Every election season they say, "Oh, this is the most vicious ever." But yeah, I think this one has been pretty divisive.
G: Elections offer a really unique opportunity for us to do what we do, because we know they're coming, we know they're going to be on the top of everyone's mind and it gives us the least time to prepare and produce. So "This Land" took about eight weeks ... It's really hard with other topical issues to be able to see it coming so far in advance ... We did something for the Arnold recall election ... If something comes along that makes Evan and I laugh, we jump right on it ... It'll be all about the inspiration for our next political piece.
What do you think of the Governator?
E: I like any governor that can call his legislators girly men.
What's up next?
E: We have a Christmas character called Grumpy Santa that we've been developing for the past five years, so we'll probably be doing something with that character for December.
G: Last Christmas we did a book for Disney and Hyperion publishing company called Are You Grumpy, Santa? ... And it was [Borders' and Barnes and Noble's] best-selling holiday book ... We're also working on an independent animated feature with the character.
Why the Left Coast?
G: We started in 1999. Dotcom industry for online entertainment was really booming. There was a lot of venture capital going into companies ... Basically, all of our clients went bankrupt within a six-month period, and there was an ad recession at the beginning of 2001 ... Our original goal was always to create original entertainment and intellectual property, and where better to do that than Los Angeles? We love it. Business-wise, we can take a meeting with a day's notice, and lifestyle-wise, we each live a couple of blocks off the beach. So it's hard to beat.
E: We're from New Jersey originally ... It's really nice to take a break and go walk the dogs and just always have the sun shining ... So we started in a garage in Brooklyn, and now we're in a warehouse in Santa Monica.
Do you guys look anything like the mustached Victorians on your logo?
G: Yes, those are actually our faces traced by Evan.
How would you compare your work to Homestar Runner?
E: I don't know how you can compare anything to Homestar Runner.
How have viewers responded to your work?
E: With "This Land" in particular, it's amazing, because the response was overwhelmingly positive ... There was one guy who said, "I'm a rightwing nut job, my Dad's a leftwing wiener, and we haven't been able to talk politics in years, but we watched "This Land" together and shared a laugh."
Do any viewer comments stand out?
E: There's some kooky ones [on our blog]. People asking to marry us.
G: We got word on our blog that our animations were circling around a base in Antarctica ... And then we got a call from NASA who wanted to send "This Land" up to the American astronaut in the International Space Station. So we've literally been on every continent and in outer space ... Another cool fact is that this July, when we first launched "This Land," our website did three times the traffic of Bush and Kerry's websites combined ... The people we owe everything to are the people who forwarded this to someone else's inbox.